Jean-René Bernaudeau believes that his Europcar squad will not be overlooked when the wildcard invitations to the Tour de France are handed out. The Frenchman was speaking at the team’s official presentation in Paris on Friday.
“The Tour de France isn’t a problem,” Bernaudeau said, according to L’Équipe. “We’ll do what we have to in order to be there but imagine a Tour départ without Voeckler, without Charteau, without Gautier.”
With the Tour set to start in the team’s home region of the Vendée this year, Bernaudeau cannot envisage that his revamped squad will be left on the sidelines in July. Indeed, the exposure offered by Tour de France participation was one of the key motivations behind Europcar’s late decision to take over sponsorship of the team from Bouygues Telecom in October.
Another crucial factor in securing Europcar’s patronage was French champion Thomas Voeckler’s decision to turn down a contract offer from Cofidis in order to stay with Bernaudeau’s team.
“I’ve been part of Jean-René’s set-up for over twelve years,” he said. “I wanted this team to continue especially after the fine year we had last year.”
As well as the tricolour jersey, Voeckler also captured a Tour de France stage win and the Grand Prix Quebec in 2010. While he was the undoubted star attraction at Friday’s launch, he also called on the team’s younger riders to step up to the mark and replace him as leader.
“I wouldn’t be jealous of anyone,” Voeckler said. “On the contrary, it will be a good sign if a young rider on the team can steal my thunder.”
Although the team lost senior riders Pierrick Fédrigo (FDJ) and Nicolas Vogondy (Cofidis) over the winter, as well as directeur sportif Didier Rous (Cofidis), Europcar can still boast Tour de France king of the mountains Anthony Charteau to share leadership duties with Thomas Voeckler. Cyril Gautier, Sébastien Chavanel and Pierre Rolland are other French riders who will be looking to shin as Europcar’s new green kit arrives in the peloton.
Just two foreign riders have berths on the team for now – Japan’s Yukiya Arashiro and Canada’s David Veilleux – but Bernaudeau hinted that his new international sponsor, as well as cycling’s increased globalisation, may well see a shift in his recruitment policy in the coming years.
“We are also part of the UCI’s globalisation movement,” he said, but reiterated that the team’s would always retain its close ties to the Vendée region.
The team's first race in its new guise will be the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon, from January 25-30,